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News: Government delares East West Rail "Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project" - September 2019

Published on 16/09/2019, written by Jerry Alderson

Railfuture's 30-year Oxford-Cambridge rail campaign took a major step forward in September 2019 when the Government declared the Central section of East West Rail from Bedford to Cambridge a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), thus streamlining the planning process. Following comprehensive public consultation involving local authorities across the route, the East West Railway Company (EWR Co) will now be able apply to the Secretary of State for Transport for a Development Consent Order (DCO) to authorise the project. A report on the consultation of the five possible route options is expected later this year, together with the preferred route.

"And there was more good news when Chancellor Sajid Javid made specific mention of the scheme in his Autumn Spending Review, that set out the government's spending plans for 2020-21. The Treasury report affirms its continued support for the development of major transport projects, including: "driving forward East West Rail links in the Oxford to Cambridge Arc", i.e. both the Central section and also the Western section from Bicester to Bedford and from Milton Keynes to Aylesbury. Communities between Oxford and Cambridge are still on track to be linked by rail before the end of the next decade.

Further reading:

News: East West Railway Company publishes five possible routes from Bedford to Cambridge - January 2019

Published on 28/01/2019, written by Jerry Alderson

There was long-expected, though still exciting, news on Monday 28 January 2019 that moves Railfuture's 30-year Oxford-Cambridge rail campaign a step closer. That was when the government's East West Railway Company announced a six-week consultation beginning immediately on five possible routes (see image below) for the new railway linking Bedford with Cambridge. Cambourne appears on two of the proposals with the other three are via Bassingbourn with new or relocated stations between Bedford and Cambridge. All five routes have something crucial in common - they would all come into Cambridge from the south, serving the proposed Cambridge South station (a Railfuture top priority) and being able to continue to Ipswich without a reversal at Cambridge. Many had expected a single preferred route to be announced, but a prudent approach is being taken to demonstrate public support.

The consultation ended on 11 March 2019.

Railfuture submitted a four-page response (PDF 140kB), in which we said that option 'A' (top right image above) had the greatest advantages, in our view, with a conpehensive explanation of why Railfuture came to that conclusion.

News: Network Rail's Transport & Works Order application for the Bletchley to Bedford section - July 2019

Published on 27/07/2019, last revised on 12/01/2020, written by Jerry Alderson

Network Rail (NR) submitted a Transport & Works Act (TWA) Application on Friday 27 July 2018 to allow it to undertake construction to reopen the western section betweeen Bicester and Bletchley (and other works on the line towards Bedford). This triggered a statutory objection period (ended 7 September 2018) in which people could object and, more importantly for supporters, to write in support of the scheme.

Naturally Railfuture submitted a response to the Department for Transport in full support of the scheme. It can be read HERE. This was followed on 18 October 2018 by Railfuture's Statement of Case (HERE) to support its evidence at the public inquiry, which ran from Wednesday 6th February to Tuesday 30th April 2019 at the MK Community Foundation Conference & Training Facilities, Margaret Powell House, 433C Midsummer Boulevard, Milton Keynes MK9 3BN.

During the consultation period, Councillor Mark Shaw, Chairman of the East West Rail Consortium of councils, which has campaigned for the reopening of the Varsity Line since 1995, said: "I'd really encourage people to give their views directly to the Department for Transport and leave them in no doubt about the public's appetite for getting trains on tracks as soon as possible." Railfuture echoed this, and urged as many supportive responses as possible.

The documents are available at https://www.networkrail.co.uk/our-railway-upgrade-plan/key-projects/east-west-rail/western-section/.

Railfuture has been told that the final number of letters of support for the project was 411. The total number of 'objections' (typically concerning one small aspect of the route [90 about a crossing at Woburn Sands and some others about crossings, such as Lidlington, footpaths and potential noise] rather than the scheme itself) was 234. Apparently this is the highest ratio in favour of a TWA Order project in Network Rail's experience and it has expressed thanks for those who had mobilised this level of support. Crucially there were no 'significant' objections from any local authorities.

The TWA application timescales were revealed by Network Rail in spring 2018 as follows:

          TWAO Submission                                         0 days       27/07/2018
          Objections Period                                       42 days      27/07/2018
          Notification of Inquiry                                 1 day        11/09/2018
          All parties submit "statement of case"                  30 days      11/09/2018
          Request for proofs of evidence & statement of matters   10 days      24/10/2018
          Proofs of evidence submission                           40 days      07/11/2018
          Notice of Pre-Inquiry Meeting                                        20/11/2018
          Pre-Inquiry Meeting                                                  29/11/2018
          Commence Public Inquiry                                              06/02/2019
          Last day of Public Inquiry                                           30/04/2019

The inspector had to write up a report for the Secretary of State, who then had six months to decide whether to grant it or not. This could potentially have been December 2019 - although Network Rail hoped to receive the Transport and Works Act Order in September 2019. Because of the General Election in 2019, during which the government could not make a decision, it was announcemened on 29 January 2020 that the order has been apprived. There was then a statutory six-week objection period, meaning that construction work requiring the TWA powers will not commence until March 2020. This did not prevent preparation works on operational railway land from being performed earlier, such as preparation work for the reconstruction of the Bletchley flyover.

During his annual budget speech on 22 November 2017, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, confirmed that an estimated £1 billion of additional funding would be available for the delivery of phase 2 of the Western Section, which will link Oxford and Aylesbury to Bedford and Milton Keynes. Obtaining a TWA Order (as mentioned above) is essential to achieving this. An Alliance of Network Rail and key construction companies (Atkins, Laing O'Rourke and VolkerRail) was formed in advance to perform the work once the powers were obtained. The upgrade and reinstated line is epected to open in 2024.

Older Archived News

News: Two positive East West Rail announcements from government in two weeks - November 2016

Published on 23/11/2016, last revised on 31/12/2016, written by Jerry Alderson

In November 2016 the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC, chaired by Lord Adonis, who is a Railfuture honorary vice-president) had recommended that the government spend £100m on the Bicester-Bletchley rail section to effectively 'get spades in the ground.' Network Rail has been planning to submit a Transport and Works Act (TWA) application at end of 2017. With 18 months for approval and two years for construction it could lead to a 2022 opening date.

On 23rd November 2016, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced that the government would provide the £100m recommended by the NIC and a further £10m to fund further development work on the Central Section of East West Rail, which is the Bedford-Cambridge link. This was further evidence of the government's support for the full Oxford-Cambridge railway that Railfuture has been campaigning for since the mid-1990s.

The second piece of good news came on 6th December 2016 when Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, announced his proposal for a new private standalone company to design, built and operate the full East West Rail link, comprising Phase 2 of the Western Section (Bicester to Bedford, plus links from Aylesbury and Milton Keynes) and the Central Section. Little detail was provided by the government but Railfuture has included some thoughts in an article.

News: Network Rail presentation to Oxford stakeholders before full Western Section Phase 1 opens to passengers - November 2016

Published on 11/12/2016, written by John Henderson

On 16th November 2016 Railfuture was one of the stakeholders attending a Network Rail (NR) presentation in Oxford about the development of the NR's infrastructure in the Oxford area in Control Period 5 (CP5), which covers 2014-19, and what is possible in CP6 (2019-24).

On 11th December 2016, the completely re-built and upgraded line between Oxford and Oxford Parkway stations will open, including renewed platforms 1 and 2 at Oxford. NR said tha the ground condition had been challenging and in some sections and an extra metre has been excavated to get down to firm ground. The track in platforms 1 and 2 has been installed twice as the first installation was unsatisfactory due to the ground condition. The main bridges on the route have been renewed or modified, and the level crossing at Aristotle Lane (famous as the issue of its replacement took 15 years to settle with stakeholders) has been replaced by a bridge.

On the issue of so-called 'silent track' and the Transport & Works Act Order (TWAO) conditions, NR has submitted reports to the authority which describe how they meet the intent without actually using 'silent track'. Silent track is not good value for money - better noise reduction is possible by techniques such as flange lubrication and stiffer track and formation. However, the issue is still not formally settled.

In 2017 and 2018 there will be a series of upgrades to the track arrangement north and south of Oxford station. These will remove several constraints in the current layout and higher speeds into Oxford station will be possible, and higher speed through it for freight. For example, at present a train from Oxford Parkway cannot come into Oxford station at the same time as one from Banbury even though they use separate platforms. By 2018, Great Western Railway's new bi-mode trains will be using the station, but under diesel power since electrification of the route from Didcot Parkway has been deferred (to an unspecificed date). In CP6, the NR speakers thought the line from Didcot would be electrified and partially four-tracked but the key point is that electrification would not be done without track changes as having to move overhead wire stanchions would not make sense. Also in CP6 it's possible that a new platform will be built along the west side of platform 4 at Oxford station.

At Oxford station, away from the tracks, an additional gate-line will be installed in 2017, but no other changes are planned. The public areas have adequate capacity for CP5, at least. In CP6 other modest improvements may be made at the same time as constructing the extra platform on the west side. For the long term, NR is working with Oxford City Council on a complete rebuild of the station but this is still at the stages of reviewing options.

The question of community relations came up in the Q&A at the meeting. NR said that during construction of the line to Oxford Parkway there have been a number of complaints about construction noise at night, but on the main line upgrades residents have been understanding and admit they know the implications of living next to a railway line. NR have published a regular email bulletin / newsletter to residents and have publicised their hot-line number. NR has used a variety of noise reducing techniques on the sites such a temporary noise barriers.

News: England's Economic Heartland reinforces support to complete Western Section Phase 1 - October 2016

Published on 21/09/2016, written by John Henderson

On 21st September 2016 Network Rail (NR) substantially completed the new line from Oxford to Oxford Parkway. A 19th-century rural line has been converted into a 21st-century double-track main line. See photos of the progress in the gallery).

Prospects for completion of Western Section Phase 2 from Bicester and Aylesbury to Bletchley are looking up. Martin Tugwell, Programme Director of England's Economic Heartland told Railfuture, and other stakeholders, that EWR is classed as an 'economic infrastructure project' leading to growth - it would not have attracted Treasury funding had it been put forward as just improving transport links. Phase 2 is currently due to open around 2022. [Since this news story was written the National Infrastructure Commission recomemdned further funding and this was provided in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement in November 2016.]

Disturbingly, the history of the past five years is repeating itself with another legal wrangle. A condition in the government permit for the new line - the Transport & Works Act Order - proposes that Network Rail should use a noise-absorbing track design in certain areas of Oxford. NR has made a legal challenge against the requirement but Oxford City Council appear to be standing firm. The line was due to open in mid-December but if the condition is enforced some of the track will have to be taken up and modified.

News update: Oxford County Council continued to put pressure on Network Rail to install 'Silent Track' on the route right up to the opening date. See Oxford Mail article on 08/12/2016.

Further reading:

News: Bedford-Cambridge 'Central Section' will be in South Cambs corridor - March 2016

Published on 29/03/2016, written by Jerry Alderson and John Henderson

In 2015 Network Rail (NR) had identified two possible 'corridors' (as oppoed to precise routes) for the Bedford-Cambridge 'Central Section' of East West Rail. These consisted of the 'Hitchin corridor' in the south and the 'Sandy corridor' to the north. On 29th March 2016 Network Rail announced, as many had expected, that it had rejected the Bedford-Hitchin-Cambridge southern option and would focus on finding the most appopriate route in the Bedford-Sandy-Cambridge corridor, which could be as far north as St Neots (i.e. not necessarily go through Sandy) and would allow a route via Cambourne and Bourn Airfield (where major housing growth is planned) to Addenbrooke's Hospital and the Biomedical Campus just south of Cambridge.

A detailed report will be published by NR in May 2016, which will expain the reasons behind its decsion. Railfuture suspects that the Hitchin corridor is potentially longer and more difficult to construct.

Railfuture has studied possible route options (24-page PDF document with maps and explanations). Its preferred route is Bedford - St Neots - Cambourne - Addenbrookes's Hospital - Cambridge. This is described on pages 9 and 18 and has the advantage of offering a shorter Cambridge to Peterborough service via St Neots.

Network Rail will now work with the East West Rail Consortium and the local authorities to develop route options within the corridor. Railfuture hopes the public will be consulted before the route is finally chosen.

Railfuture has written an article East-West Double Boost, which gives a greater insight on the proposals.

In the previous option selection round, each corridor had a sub-option, representing alternative Bedford stations - existing, or new; there has been no further comment on those, but further information may be released in May 2016 with the detailed report.

Whichever route is finally chosen, the route will be mainly in South Cambridgeshire and Central Bedfordshire. Other news media have speculated on the prospects for Sandy itself, though its population is lower than other towns that may be in the corridor.

Further reading:

News: Bicester to Oxford route upgrade - new service to Oxford Parkway has opened - October 2015

Published on 26/10/2015, written by Jerry Alderson

Chiltern Railways is progressing on the upgrade to the 'Western Section' route between Oxford station and the brand new Oxford Parkway station that opened on 26th October 2015 (the train service is currently suspended between these two points to allow the redoubling and complete rebuild along with changes at Oxford station to cater for the new service, whcih should open in December 2016).

The stations at Bicester Town (now renamed Bicester Village after the adjacent retail park) and Islip stations were completely rebuilt and now have two platforms with a footbridge). Chiltern Railways' new London Marylebone to Oxford Parkway service (see initial timetable), which has proved popular, was opened by Prime Minister David Cameron on 26 October 2015 - see Oxford-Parkway-opens article, which includes a series of photos.

Work to open the route into Oxford station is progressing, and concurrently Network Rail is working on the the detailed design for the reopening of the route between Bletchley and Bicester. Vegetation has been completely removed between the two towns.

Click here to see some Railfuture photos showing work between Oxford and Bicester. The photos show the areas at the side of the track being prepared for the major upgrade.

In March 2014: Government announces that Crossrail will run to Reading. This decision provides further evidence that the government recognises the value of East West Rail (its services will go to Reading) as part of the national rail network.

News: Options for Bedford-Cambridge 'Central Section' reduced from seven down to two corridors - July 2015

Published on 26/01/2015, last revised on 09/02/2021, written by Jerry Alderson

On 25th July 2015 Railfuture issued a press release to warmly welcome the East West Rail Consortium's announcement showing the two preferred 'corridor' options of the Central Section of East West Rail between Cambridge and Bedford, which it has reduced down from seven possible corridors. The intention had been to draw up a short list of three. Railfuture also provided a map showing the two corridors.

Further reading:

News: North Oxford rail upgrade approved - June 2015

Published on 16/06/2015, written by Jerry Alderson

In meetings on 11th and 16th June 2015, Oxford City Council approved Chiltern Railways and Network Rail's proposals to minimise noise on the railway line between Oxford and the new Oxford Parkway station. The approval clears the way for the companies to complete the upgrade of that section. Among the many documents considered by the Council, were letters between the Department for Transport and Network Rail concerning a low-noise track design. You can read them here.

Further legal challenges are still possible if noise monitoring, once trains start running, shows the conditions are not being met. There are still some road crossing designs to finalise in the Bicester area, but the City approval means Phase 1 of East West Rail is on schedule. Services on the upgraded line are due to start from Oxford Parkway to Bicester and London Marylebone in October and starting from Oxford station by Spring 2016.

The provisional timetable is here (PDF,37 pages). We hope that the final version will have more trains stopping at Islip.

The three new / rebuilt stations on this section - Oxford Parkway, Islip and Bicester Town (will be renamed Bicester Village) - are well advanced in construction and you can see photos here (BBC website) So the events in June 2015 have seen an important step forward from Oxford towards Bicester and Cambridge.

News: Study finds Bedford-Cambridge 'Central Section' has "significant economic growth potential" - August 2014

Published on 18/08/2014, written by Jerry Alderson

On 18th August 2014 the East West Rail Consortium published the results of a study of the benefits that would be gained by building a railway line that that linked Cambridge with Bedford, Milton Keynes, Oxfordshire and the west. The study found that suggested trains travelling between Cambridge and Oxford at up to 125mph could slash the journey time between the two world-renowned university cities to just an hour. This could deliver a boost of more than £750 million for the region's economy.

In its press release Railfuture said "This new line, which has support across the political spectrum at all levels of government as well as from business leaders and transport campaigners, now has a solid economic case. What some once regarded as a 'pipe dream' in 1995 when Railfuture wrote the original paper that led to local authorities across the region setting up of the East West Rail Consortium, will soon be a vital economic artery serving every part of the region".

Read the full Railfuture press release HERE.

The Government is providing funds for Network Rail to undertake the next phase of feasibility work to identify a preferred route. In September 2013 Railfuture produced a document outlining some possible route options.

The good news contained in this study follows the publication of a policy by the Department for Transport on 6th December 2013 called "Tech Connected", which described the importance of London, Cambridge and Oxford to the UK's economy and how new rail links will connect the three cities with each other.

Further reading:

News: Good News and Bad News for Oxford to Bedford railway - March 2014

Published on 31/03/2014, written by Jerry Alderson

On 31st March 2014 Network Rail (NR) finally confirmed their plans for the Western Section of East West Rail. The plans are in contained in the 'CP5 Enhancements Delivery Plan' (PDF 1.5MB), which is part of NR's overall Delivery Plan, now finally agreed with the DfT and Office of Rail Regulation. You can read just the two-page Ox-Cam extract of pages 40-41 from the document. These and other documents can be found here. The design of the project is largely as expected, at least between Oxford and Milton Keynes, and will include major improvement of the Oxford station area. NR has already awarded some contracts - the design and build contract has gone to a joint venture of Carillion and Buckingham Group Contracting for £87m.

That was the good news, the not so good news is: firstly the new lines will not be ready until March 2019, 16 months later than the original target; secondly, even on that time-scale, there will be no electrification; and thirdly, only 'minor upgrading' of the Bedford - Bletchley line is included. This is a great disappointment and is the result of the schedule needing three years, from now to 2017, to obtain the Transport & Works Act Order to permit the project. And this is for a total of about 30 route miles of re-built line.

But the Delivery Plan leaves a chink of light in the gloom: 'It is noted that the East West Rail Consortium and DfT have a target date for the core East West Rail train service to operate from December 2017..., work will be required to develop scope and programme options as the project progresses. Railfuture will be looking for the 'programme option' that gets the first train running as soon as possible.

News: Next Stop Cambridge is now government policy - December 2013

Published on 06/12/2013, last revised on 09/02/2021, written by Peter Wakefield and Jerry Alderson

Railfuture was delighted to hear the government announce on 6th December 2013 that it accepted the need to link Oxford and Cambridge by rail once again and that it would drive this forward. The announcement was made, rather quietly it must be said, by the Department for Transport in a document called Tech Connected (with a flash hi-tech image, below). It described the importance of London, Cambridge and Oxford to the UK's economy and how new rail links will connect the three cities with each other. You can find the policy leaflet [here].

Launching the policy, the press release states: 'The DfT is developing proposals for the construction of a new railway line from Bedford to Cambridge. This would build on the ongoing work on the East-West Rail project and complete the London-Cambridge-Oxford tech triangle.'

Tech Connected Tunnel Images

So it's now official government policy to open a new railway from Bedford to Cambridge, though they haven't provided funding yet. The policy includes an interchange station on the East Coast Main Line which is an element that Railfuture has always wanted (see the route diagram in our leaflet). The questions now are how soon can the new line be built, and which route will it take? Expect more news on those questions in the first few months of 2014.

News: Seven local authorities vote to pay financial contribution towards East West Rail western section - October 2013

Published on 31/10/2013, written by John Henderson and Jerry Alderson

In October 2013 the last of seven local authorities (Milton Keynes Council, Buckinghamshire County Council, Oxfordshire County Council, Cherwell District Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Bedford Borough Council and Aylesbury Vale Council) in the corridor of the western section of the East West Rail link agreed to pay their contributions totalling £45m towards the £50m that the government required.

There was disbelief amongst many observers and other councils when the eighth, Oxford City Council, declared that it would not contribute because it councillors did not believe there would be any significant economic benefits to Oxford! Fortunately this does not jeopardise the scheme. The East West Rail Consortium said it would discuss with Oxford City Council whether it could provide payment 'in kind' instead.

Around the same time it was announced that Government officials had finally approved the £70m plan to transform Oxford railway station. The work, which should be complete by 2019, will include an extra platform built to accommodate more services including those from London Marylebone, Milton Keynes and Bedford. Railfuture was quoted in the Oxford Mail supporting the scheme.

Further reading:

News: Railfuture publishes its analysis on possible rail routes between Cambridge and Bedford - September 2013

Published on 15/09/2013, last revised on 09/12/2014, written by Jerry Alderson

In September 2013, in response to the commissioning of consultants by Cambridgeshire County Council to look at routes for the 'Central Section' between Cambridge and Oxford, Railfuture published a 10-page document describing the analysis it had done on possible routes. This was circulated to all interested parties, and led to radio and television interviews, as well as reports in newspapers.

Read the Railfuture document [here], which was revised in December 2014.

News: Railfuture organises walk with Campaign for Better Transport to promote EWRL Central Section - June 2013

Published on 26/06/2013, written by John Henderson

Making the link from Oxford to Cambridge!

Railfuture and the Campaign for Better Transport held a rally and walk in support of rebuilding the railway through to Cambridge (the "central section") on Saturday 29th June 2013. They were joined by Members of Parliament, County and District Councillors from Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. The photo above (click on the photo for a larger image) shows some of the 50 people who took part.

Branch Committee Member John Henderson (6th from left) worked with Susan Dye of CBT to organise the free event, which attracted considerable media coverage in the area, started in PrioryCountry Park in Bedford. More information can be found at http://www.railfuture.org.uk/ox-cam+walk.

News: Network Rail to build Western Section of Oxford to Cambridge - January 2013

Published on 10/01/2013, written by Jerry Alderson

In January 2013 Network Rail announced its plan for construction of the western section of the East West Rail link between Bedford and Oxford, Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, as part of its Strategic Business Plan for 2014-2019.

With the support and financial backing of the Department for Transport and the East West Rail Consortium, Network Rail will now develop and implement the project, with the aim of having East West Rail services operational for passengers and freight by December 2017. The route between Bedford and Oxford is also proposed for electrification as part of the 'Electric Spine' scheme to enhance passenger and freight services between Southampton and the West and East Midlands. The EWRC and Network Rail will be examining ways in which the two projects can be integrated.

The next step is for the Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) to scrutinise and approve Network Rail's Business Plan. At the same time, Network Rail and the Consortium will complete the environmental impact assessments and obtain any necessary planning consent. The target date for train services to the operational on the East West Rail link between Oxford and Bedford and Aylesbury and Milton Keynes is December 2017, and for electrification of the line between Oxford and Bedford to be complete by March 2019.

Further reading:

News: Chiltern Railways confirms Oxford to Bicester upgrade will have full East West Rail provision - October 2012

Published on 18/10/2012, last revised on 12/04/2015, written by Jerry Alderson

On 18th 2012 October the government granted legal powers to Chiltern Railways to construct a new route between Oxford and London Marylebone. The project, known as Evergreen 3, will include a significant upgrade of the Oxford to Bicester line, including two new platforms at Oxford station, a new station at Water Eaton (name eventually chosen as Oxford Parkway) and enhanced stations at Bicester and Islip.

Emma Gascoigne of Chiltern Railways confirmed to Railfuture that the powers "provide the necessary consent to construct all the infrastructure required for the East West services, including the electrification equipment. It is probable that we will undertake some preparatory works for the electrification of the route but we will not install the electrification equipment as it is not required until the rest of the East West route beyond Bicester is opened in 2017."

Chiltern Railways also said it would be working in partnership with the East West Rail project, which aims to restore passenger services between Oxford and Bedford and will share the route as far as Bicester.

To demonstrate its support for the full £400m western section of the East West Rail Link, not just its London-Oxford service, on Friday 12th October Chiltern Railways operated a special train to from Aylesbury onto the currently freight-only route as far as the buffer stops at Claydon Junction. A temporary platform on the reversing siding at Claydon was built on the day allowing the invited passengers to alight from the Chiltern Railways three-car Class 168 train. Photographs were then taken of dignitaries at the buffer stops (see: News Story). Footage was featured on the evening news programmes (see: Anglia TV news report - Fri 12 Oct 2012. On its return the train stopped at Quainton Road station with the guests having lunch at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre.

News: Government approves EWR Western Section - July 2012

Published on 16/07/2012, last revised on 09/02/2021, written by John Henderson (East Anglia branch co-ordinator for the Ox-Cam campaign)

Railfuture was delighted to report that on 16th July 2012 the British government approved the first phase of the Oxford - Cambridge railway.

This phase, known as the Western Section, includes Oxford and Aylesbury to Milton Keynes and Bedford. The announcement included the unexpected good news that much of the the line would be electrified, which had not been part of the proposals submitted by the East West Rail Consortium. It will form part of a new Electric Spine, a high-capacity passenger and freight electric corridor running from the South Coast through Oxford to Bedford. It is expected to open in 2017, although the electrification will not be complete until 2019.

This is a fantastic result for the Railfuture campaign that has been running since the mid 1990s.

For the first time, an English inter-city railway that was closed many years ago will be re-opened as a modern 21st century transport link. The re-opening from Oxford to Bedford will set a precedent and Railfuture will be campaigning re-opening of disused lines wherever a good case can be made. Of course, we continue with the Ox-Cam campaign to build the complete project through to Cambridge, and to improve the links from Cambridge into East Anglia, and from Oxford to the south and west. We will also continue to work on the Western Section to ensure that it opens as soon as possible, with a service that is frequent and fast and accessible to all.

The government had announced funding for the £270m scheme in late November 2011 providing that the East West Rail Consortium provided a "robust" case for developing the route, which they have since done, and a commitment by local authorities along the western section of the route to contribute £50m over fifteen to twenty years. They will commence funding in 2014.

Update: Sadly, as of February 2021, the government has reneged on much of what was promised above. It believes that hydrogen trains will magically avoid the need for electrified route, and the Electric Spine had bit the dust around 2015, the Aylesbury link is benig re-evaluated and the opening date has been pushed back to 2025.

News: East West Rail Status Update - April 2012

Published on 30/04/2012, last revised on 09/02/2021, written by John Henderson, East Anglia branch co-ordinator for the Ox-Cam campaign

We ended 2011 with the fantastic news that the Western Section of the East West Rail project is included in the government's Infrastructure Plan. At the same time, the Chancellor's Autumn Statement provided most of the funding for the Bicester to Milton Keynes section on the condition the balance is found from 'local contributions'. These local contributions are likely to come from the Community Infrastructure Levy which is paid by housing developers to the appropriate local authority.

The Oxford to Bicester section of the route is currently being developed by Chiltern Railways as part of their Evergreen 3 Project. Chiltern are upgrading this section so that it can carry trains towards London (via High Wycombe) and on the East West route. Unfortunately, the 2011 public inquiry into the project recommended against the project. Nevertheless, the Minister for Rail wrote that she is minded to approve, and a new public enquiry opens in May 2012.

Returning to the Bicester to Milton Keynes section: once funding is secured, the project will appear in the government's High Level Output Specification (HLOS) - expected in July 2012. This means that the project will be included in Network Rail's Strategic Business Plan (SBR). The SBR will be assessed by the Office For Rail Regulation. Full authorisation from the ORR is expected in 2014; then the project will be handed over to Network Rail to undertake the engineering and construction of the line which is expected to take three years. There is no firm news on which train companies will provide services over the line, but the train paths (slots) may well be shared between two or more operators.

In the meantime, we can expect some modest moves towards the goal. In 2011, old signalling equipment near Bletchley was replaced by new equipment that is designed to handle trains to and from the Oxford direction. And at Oxford itself, approval has been given for new tracks north of the main station. The new tracks will ease the flow of passenger and freight trains through the station, including the future trains towards Milton Keynes and Cambridge.

Mention of Cambridge means that it's time to cover the Bedford to Cambridge area. Of course, to complete the Oxford to Cambridge rail link, the gap across Bedfordshire will need to be filled with a new line. Railfuture, The East West Rail Consortium, and the East West Rail All Party Parliamentary Group of MPs have all committed themselves to it. EWRC published a preliminary report on this Central Section in 2009, but things have moved on since then, and EWRC and Railfuture have started new studies.

We hope that some of you have seen Railfuture's impressive two-metre high Display Stand, promoting the Ox-Cam link, which has been at events and public places including as Cambridge Central Library.

News: Light at end of tunnel as batty problem solved - London to Oxford rail link should proceed - December 2011

Published on 15/12/2011, written by John Henerson

Chiltern Railways has worked with Natural England to resolve a problem that risked derailing the new £130 million second rail link between London Marylebone and Oxford, which is a crucial element of the Oxford-Cambridge link.

The inspector's report from the Transport and Works Act public inquiry into the proposed link raised concerns about the habitat for bats in Wolvercote tunnel, to the east of Oxford. It had been claimed that additional trains passing through the tunnel, and at higher speed, would increase the risk of harm to the bats and see roosts in the tunnel "rendered unusable."

Chiltern Railways has agreed to install a ground-breaking lighting system within the tunnel to warn bats of a train's arrival. The Secretary of State for transport, Justine Greening, is now expected to give approval for the scheme in January 2012, allowing the works to upgrade the railway line to take place during 2012, with the new service opening in 2013 or 2014.

Further reading:

News: Chancellor's Autumn Statement is great news for Ox-Cam Western Section - November 2011

Published on 29/11/2011, last revised on 09/02/2021, written by John Henderson

Shortly after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne finished presenting his autumn statement to Parliament, the East West Rail Consortium published the following letter from the Department for Transport.

"...the Government is committed to developing the new East West rail link between Oxford, Bicester, Aylesbury, Milton Keynes and Bedford, for which the East West Consortium has demonstrated a strong case.

"Network Rail has been asked to develop the scheme further with the Consortium and other stakeholders. Subject to a satisfactory local contribution to the cost of the project and a satisfactory business case, the Government will announce how it will take forward this scheme in summer 2012.

"Provided the conditions have been met, Network Rail will then work in conjunction with the East West Rail Consortium, to deliver the scheme set out by the Consortium in its November 2011 Prospectus. The Government will provide funding to Network Rail, subject to the Consortium meeting a share of the costs, as set out in the Prospectus."

The Consortium's web-site said it is "delighted with the news that the western section of East West Rail received a significant endorsement from the Chancellor."

Railfuture is obviously also delighted but advises people to read the DfT's letter very carefully indeed as there are several caveats, and the scheme cannot be considered 100% certain yet.

Please see Railfuture press release on major rail schemes announced by the Chancellor.

Also: News story on Railfuture website.

Further reading:

News: Chancellor's Autumn Statement is great news for Ox-Cam Western Section - November 2011

Published on 29/11/2011, last revised on 09/02/2021, written by John Henderson

Shortly after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne finished presenting his autumn statement to Parliament, the East West Rail Consortium published the following letter from the Department for Transport.

"...the Government is committed to developing the new East West rail link between Oxford, Bicester, Aylesbury, Milton Keynes and Bedford, for which the East West Consortium has demonstrated a strong case.

"Network Rail has been asked to develop the scheme further with the Consortium and other stakeholders. Subject to a satisfactory local contribution to the cost of the project and a satisfactory business case, the Government will announce how it will take forward this scheme in summer 2012.

"Provided the conditions have been met, Network Rail will then work in conjunction with the East West Rail Consortium, to deliver the scheme set out by the Consortium in its November 2011 Prospectus. The Government will provide funding to Network Rail, subject to the Consortium meeting a share of the costs, as set out in the Prospectus."

The Consortium's web-site said it is "delighted with the news that the western section of East West Rail received a significant endorsement from the Chancellor."

Railfuture is obviously also delighted but advises people to read the DfT's letter very carefully indeed as there are several caveats, and the scheme cannot be considered 100% certain yet.

Please see Railfuture press release on major rail schemes announced by the Chancellor.

Also: News story on Railfuture website.

Further reading:

News: Major New Boost for East West Rail from Oxford Economics report - September 2011

Published on 31/08/2011, written by Jerry Alderson

The East West Rail Consortium efforts to re-open the Oxford-Cambridge Rail Link received another boost with the publication of an economic appraisal from a leading economic forecaster, Oxford Economics.

The report considers that economic benefits of £38m pa will accrue from the rail link and will provide a major boost to the travelling public, business and provide a stimulates to growth. Theresa Villiers has already suggested a bid for funds in the next round of Dft funding should be made.

Front page news in the Eastern Daily Press, Great Yarmouth MP, Brandon Lewis, recognised the potential to help the re-generation of the town, whilst other Norfolk MPs contacted, Elizabeth Truss, Chloe Smith and George Freeman, were enthusiastic in their support seeing the huge benefits the scheme would bring to Norfolk. Visit Norwich and Norfolk Chamber of Commerce see the benefits the rail link will bring.

MPs on the Bedford to Oxford section of the route continue to support the re-opening of the line. Tony Baldry, MP for Banbury and Bicester, has warmly welcomed the report as he has longed pressed for the case for the line. Meanwhile, Iian Stewart, MP for Milton Keynes SW, is seeking to re-establish an MPs support committee. The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership and South Midlands LEP have confirmed their support. All councils along the line support re-opening.

Rail Magazine (24/08/2011 issue) had a two-page feature on the report and Modern Railways (Aug 2011) also had a report.

It is good to see the views of Railfuture, the Oxon and Bucks Rail Action Committee and the user groups are being validated. Surely after over 25 years of campaigning, the DfT will recognised this rail link has a major role to play in the national rail network.

News: Series of Network Rail test trains run over Bletchley flyover to Newton Longville - August 2011

Published on 09/08/2011, written by Jerry Alderson

The Bletchley Flyover, which allows trains from Bedford to cross over the very busy West Coast Mainline just south of Bletchley station on their way to Oxford (and vice versa) is crucial for the Oxford-Cambridge rall link.

The flyover and relaid line to Newton Longville has not seem much activity in the last year or two. However, in 2011 there have been at least three Network Rail test trains that have crossed the viaduct and proceeded to the end of the line.

On Tuesday 9th August 2011 a lone workman was walking along the flyover and a short while later the 2-car former Class 150 track recording train made two traversals along the line, presumably one for each of the two tracks. This follows several days when workmen appeared to be examining the line. Previously on Friday 9th July the class-37 hauled longer test train had also visited the line, as had another train in January 2011. This seems excessive given that there is no freight traffic on the line, so it may mean that traffic is planned.

News: East West Rail western section GRIP4 reports released - November 2010

Published on 30/11/2010, written by Jerry Alderson

East West Rail have released their final reports on the GRIP 4 Outline Business Case on the section of the rail link between Oxford and Bedford, which shows a Benefit-Cost Ratio of 6.3.

Both the summary document and the full Business Case Executive Summary can be viewed in our Documents section.

News: Hitchin flyover public inquiry held - May 2010

Published on 26/05/2010, written by Jerry Alderson

A public inquiry into a new railway flyover at Hitchin was held between 11 and 25 May 2010.

The new Cambridge Junction flyover will allow frequency and journey time improvements on the East Coast Main Line and could be used by future Oxford to Cambridge trains running via Bedford. An independent inspector will examine the evidence submitted by Network Rail, supporters and objectors at the open inquiry at The Spirella Ballroom in Letchworth Garden City.

The new track, partly on embankment and partly on viaduct, would take the Hitchin to Cambridge line over the East Coast Main Line and the work is scheduled to take 27 months from September 2011.

Network Rail produced a closing statement which stated: "All landowners whose interests would be compulsorily acquired have either withdrawn their objections or are imminently expected to; or have not appeared to pursue them. NR's assertion that no farm would go out of business has not been challenged. The objections of the statutory authorities have also been withdrawn.

"Existing long distance train journey times decrease with the scheme. In the May 2011 emerging timetable an aggregate 20 minutes of pathing time will be saved for 20 long distance ECML services with trains saving half a minute to 2 minutes. These savings generate £800k per annum of benefits using the DfT appraisal guidance.

"The Hitchin grade separation benefit:cost ratio has been calculated at 5.5 over 60 years."

A summary and the full Network Rail statement can be viewed in our Documents section.

News: All major parties back East West Rail Link in General election cmapaign - May 2010

Published on 01/05/2010, written by Jerry Alderson

All three major parties have said they back the East West rail plan to link the East of England with Bedford and Oxford, according to the BBC 2010 Election web site.

Baroness Shirley Williams joined Lord Adonis in supporting the plans to link Norwich and Ipswich with Bedford and Luton and beyond, while a Conservative spokesperson said they would ensure "schemes like the East-West rail link deliver the best possible value for money."

Further reading:

News: South East of England Partnership reviews funding options for East West Rail - March 2010

Published on 12/03/2010, written by Jerry Alderson

On 12 March 2010 the South East of England Partnership decided to review funding options with a view to including East West Rail in the Delivering a Sustainable Transport System (DaSTS) Interim Report, which will be presented to the Regional Transport Board in June 2010.

The Transport Board of the South East England Partnership has a key role in advising Government on significant transport issues in the South East. It is responsible for the Regional Transport Strategy (RTS), which ensures transport projects in the region complement and support sustainable development. The Board is made up of county and unitary councillors and other organisations such as the Highways Agency and Network Rail.

News: DfT awards funding to allow East West route to be used for container traffic - January 2010

Published on 31/01/2010, written by Jerry Alderson

For cost reasons it had previously been intended to retain the single track in the narrow Wolvercote Tunnel on the railway line between Oxford and Bicester. However, on 15th January 2010 the DfT announced that funding for twin tracking (involving the movement of the track from the centre to one side) and gauge clearance of the tunnel to W12+ gauge so that modern 9' 6" "high cube" container freight as part of its support for the Evergreen 3 project. This work is an essential ingredient for use of the route for long distance container freight. Its value will only be fully realised when the rest of the line to Bletchley and Bedford is restored.

News: Chiltern Railways submits TWA Order application for Oxford-Bicester-London Marylebone - January 2010

Published on 15/01/2010, written by Jerry Alderson

On 15th January 2010 Chiltern Railways submitted an application for a Transport & Works Act (TWA) order for the new 800-metre chord linking the Marylebone-Birmingham mainline with the Bicester Town-Oxford line, which will form the western-most section of the East West Rail Link. As well as leading to a major upgrade of the route between Oxford and Bicester, providing a new park and station at Water Eaton in north Oxford (eventually called Oxford Parkway) and second platforms at Islip and Bicester Town, which do not require TWA powers, the £250m scheme will also reinstate the Birmingham Moor Street station terminus platforms and improve line speeds. Network Rail is providing funding and will recover the money through "facility charges" over 30 years; Chiltern's franchise lasts until 2021.

News: East West Rail Consortium fears that recession may delay opening of railway - November 2009

Published on 30/11/2009, written by Jerry Alderson

The East West Rail Consortium had hoped to commence construction of the western section (linking Oxford to Bletchley) in late 2010 for opening in 2012. However, largely because of the economic recession, which has affected housing and commercial developments, it is now proposing to start construction in early 2014 for route reopening in late 2015. Obviously Railfuture and other rail campaign groups are unhappy about this and are pushing strongly for the entire project to move forward.

News: Lord Adonis asks East West Rail Consortium how he could help to make rail link happen - September 2009

Published on 02/09/2009, written by Jerry Alderson

On 2nd September 2009 representatives of the East West Rail Consortium along with Phyllis Starkey MP and Evan Harris MP met Lord Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport, at the DfT's offices in London to discuss progress on the western section of the East West rail link.

Lord Adonis said that in his view the project was a great scheme had he wanted to know how he could help to make it happen. The Consortium representatives explained to him that there was potential to obtain around £50-60m of contributions from private developers for new housing but contributions could not be levied on housing projects that had already received planning consent. However, the transport component of the Regional Funding Advice is another potential source of funding, and the rail link has been identified as a regional priority by the Regional Transport Board, and the Consortium stressed that government support for the scheme would help to secure this funding.

See link to summary of meeting: Consortium meeting with Lord Adonis on 02/09/2009.

Network Rail's Great Western Route Utilisation Study has recognised the importance of reopening the line between Oxford and Bletchley and envisages utilisation of the Bletchley to Bedford route for freight connections to the Midland Mainline.

The cost of the western section would be reduced by £60-70m if the Chiltern Railways Evergreen 3 project, which proposes a high-quality route from Marylebone to Oxford, goes ahead.

The meeting agreed that further work needs to be conducted by 2013 in order to include the scheme within Network Rail's contractual 2014-2019 Control Period 5 funding for schemes. The Consortium intends to develop a fully-costed programme leading to a 2014 start date.

News: Public support Chiltern Railways' Oxford-Bicester-London Marylebone service gives EWR big boost - May 2009

Published on 30/04/2009, written by Jerry Alderson

More than 90% of visitors at Chiltern Railways' exhibitions in Oxford, Bicester and Kidlington, held between 17 and 25 April 2009, expressed their overall support for the scheme to upgrade the railway from Oxford to Bicester with a new chord to the London-Birmingham Chiltern route. See link to news item:

Further reading:

News: Railfuture writes welcomed and commented on Steer Davies Gleeve's EWR Central Section report - April 2009

Published on 28/04/2009, written by Jerry Alderson

Railfuture wrote to the East West Rail Consortium with the following comments on the East West Rail Central Section report:

  • Railfuture welcomes the report commissioned by the EWRC
  • We commend the decision not to take the evaluation of the "Northern Route" via Manton further
  • We welcome the development of the option to route via Luton and Stevenage. The connectivity possibilities of this routing appear to be very high
  • We approve of the decision to opt for Cambridge, Norwich and Ipswich as final service destinations. We thus support the further investigation of option 1c
  • We would urge more work to evaluate the option to use the erstwhile Bedford to Hitchin direct route*. We feel that this route may well maximise the potential for the fastest end to end journey times
  • Bedford is a major population centre and we feel that there must be very compelling reasons for the town not be on the core EWR route.

News: Support for Steer Davies Gleeve 'Options for Central Section' Proposals - March 2009

Published on 31/03/2009, written by Jerry Alderson

Various stakeholders have written to the East West Rail Consortium to comment on the Central Section options to link the East Coast Main line with the Midland Main Line to 'bridge the missing link', which were produced by Steer Davies Gleeve in February 2009.

In March 2009 Herts County Council backed plans to build a rail link between Stevenage and Luton.

Derrick Ashley, executive member for planning at Herts County Council, said: "It's been a long standing ambition to improve the East-West rail links at the council. The link between Luton and Stevenage is a new idea that could provide the missing link. My concern is that anything we do does not impact on the routes in and out of London. And it is not an easy option to build a railway of course - there are a lot environmental issues. We are at a very early stage and in this economic climate where the money would even be found is questionable."

News: Consortium issues new report 'East West Rail Central Section Operating Case' - February 2009

Published on 26/01/2021, last revised on 09/02/2021, written by Jerry Alderson

The East West Rail Consortium has issued a new report 'East West Rail Central Section Operating Case', see Report, which looks at the route options to link Milton Keynes / Bletchley with Cambridge, Stansted, Norwich, and Ipswich. The report also proposes service patterns for the whole East West route.

Please read the report, and the covering letter, and send in your comments. Send your comments by post or email as described in the covering letter. Here are some features of the report you may like to comment on:

  • The report says that the focus of the route should be Oxford - Cambridge. But some of the preferred options go directly to Stansted, leaving Cambridge out.
  • Some of the preferred options make use of congested sections of existing main lines (the Midland and the East Coast), but the authors have not checked whether slots are actually available.
  • Milton Keynes is served by two separate routes, one from Oxford and one from Cambridge. There are also direct trains from Oxford to Cambridge, but, overall, there would be a greater choice of train times if MK was on a through route, with the trains from Oxford going on to Cambridge and vice versa.
  • All the trains would be only two carriages initially. Anyone who travels from Cambridge or Oxford to the Midlands knows how crowded even three or four carriages can get. What would two be like?
  • The report recommends extending the route south from Oxford, to Didcot and Reading. But there are already frequent trains from Oxford to Reading. A better southern terminus would be Swindon as there is no longer any direct service from Oxford. Swindon would also give much faster connections to Bristol and Wales than would Reading.
  • On the eastern end of the route, the report confirms the destinations should be Norwich and Ipswich. But, between Cambridge and Norwich / Ipswich, the EW new service would run in place of the existing service, so there would be no increase in capacity over this increasingly well-used route.

News: Trackbed at western end cleared to allow technical surveys and ground investigations - January 2009

Published on 29/01/2009, written by Jerry Alderson

The disused route between Claydon Junction (near to Bicester) and just west of Bletchley, is to be cleared of vegetation over a two-week period in January so that the track bed can be carefully examined. Patrick O'Sullivan, East-West Rail project manager for the Milton Keynes Partnership, said: "Once the site clearance is completed, the engineers and surveyors will begin their technical surveys and ground investigations to enable the design work of the new track and associated railway engineering works for the western section of the East-West Rail project."

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